U.S. cardinal returns from Iran in attempt to free U.S. hikers

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, was set to return home this afternoon from Iran, where he and three other Muslim and Christian leaders met with the Iranian president in an effort to secure the release of two American hikers .

The cardinal joined Niha Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Larry Shaw, chairman of the council’s board, and Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington in a meeting Saturday with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The delegation will discuss their meetings in Iran during an afternoon press conference.

The four leaders visited Iran on behalf of Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, two of the three hikers who were arrested while hiking near the unmarked
mountainous Iran-Iraq border July 31, 2009. Iran has maintained the hikers were CIA spies and entered the country illegally.

The two men are being held in prison after being convicted of spying and illegal entry into the country in a trial last month. Each received an eight-year prison sentence.

The third hiker, Sarah Shourd, who is Bauer’s fiancee, was released last year for health reasons.

The families of both men and the U.S. government said the trio did not know they had crossed the border.

Attempts to have the men released on bond have been delayed because a second judge who needed to sign paperwork was on vacation.

Iranian media quoted Ahmadinejad as saying last week that the hikers’ release was “imminent.”

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